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Homily - Fifth Sunday of Easter C - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 15 May 20022 

Each Sunday in this Easter season has had a particular emphasis. Firstly, we have walked with the disciples as they struggled to understand who the Risen Jesus is. We heard Jesus telling Peter to follow him. Last Sunday the Good Shepherd spoke about the trust between shepherd and followers. And this week, we hear about love that lies at the heart of the relationship between those who are following the Good Shepherd. How might these scripture readings help us better appreciate the story we tell because of Jesus?

Firstly, we all know about the story in the first chapters of the first book of the Bible. We hear about the creation of Adam and Eve and the human capacity to be tempted the forbidden fruit. Our second reading – from the book of the Apocalypse - is taken from the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. Our bible story is framed by these two realities. We were made in God's image and likeness but are capable of being tempted to make stupid and destructive decisions. God wants to take away sin and its power through Jesus who is crushed by sin on Good Friday but who rises victorious on Easter Sunday. And we are given the hope of a new heaven and new earth, not built by self-indulgence or human ideologies but by a gift of God's grace, offered freely to all of us. It is interesting in the Gospel passage that Jesus talks about being glorified, immediately after Judas leaves to betray him. God is at work to make all things new, even in the mess that we so often make. This is the message that is at the heart of the Good News, the Gospel. Christ's followers are asked to take responsibility for how we live our lives with God's good news in our hearts. That is how God wants to change the world.

Secondly, Jesus proclaims that love changes everything. In a very competitive and confrontational world, many people feel unloved and unlovable. We are told that there are standards that somebody else sets that we have to live up to. Politicians may make great promises about new policies and structures that will make everything better for everybody. But Jesus says that the only policy change that will have any real effect is to love one another as God has loved the world. We pick and pay our politicians to put in place structures that will support communities and their flourishing. But the quality of life in our communities is not decided by Stormont, Westminster or Brussels but by the quality of relationships in our towns and villages. Political leadership may have some role to play – and we know some examples of great and self-sacrificing leaders. But it is local leadership in communities and parishes that makes the difference on the ground. Political ideologies that promise a better future through 'me and my rights' can actually damage the community is needed to enable human rights and dignity to flourish. A real human-centred approach helps my growth to take place in the community. Our current rampant individualism – that most parties blindly support – promises that my growth must take place, whatever the cost to the community.

Jesus says that it is by love for one another that his disciples will be recognised. If the Church is to be on the path to renewal, we have to focus, not merely on how we demand that others behave but on how much love for one another is visible and makes Jesus credible. Unless the truth is spoken in love, it can become a weapon that crushes people rather than inspires them. That is where people can glimpse what the new heavens and the new earth might look like.

Parishes are not merely distributors of sacred services where consumers like, or complain about the quality of service. Clergy and laity are called to work together, challenging one another to make Jesus and his love known in concrete terms. Renewal will not happen in politics simply by fiddling with structures. Renewal in church will not come simply by fiddling with laws and teachings.

Thirdly, in the first reading today, Paul and Barnabas are just finishing their first missionary journey into pagan territory, starting in Antioch in modern Syria. They have been warmly accepted by some in Cyprus and modern Turkey - and rejected by many. They know that they will have to suffer many hardships if they are to speak the truth and face the reality of evil. Jesus had to face Calvary because of what he said and did. His followers have to expect opposition. The devil does not want a new heavens and new earth. He is concerned with the development of hell, here and hereafter. Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch. They give an account of their ministry and of the hope that they encountered. The synodal process is asking us all in our parishes and diocese to be accountable to God and to one another for how we are promoting the mission of Jesus. Clergy are not freelance ministers who do their own thing. Parishes are not merely distributors of sacred services where consumers like, or complain about the quality of service. Clergy and laity are called to work together, challenging one another to make Jesus and his love known in concrete terms. Renewal will not happen in politics simply by fiddling with structures. Renewal in church will not come simply by fiddling with laws and teachings.

Today's rich readings point, as ever, to the core virtues of who we are. We are asked to have faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and in the resurrection of our own bodies, for they are sacred. We are asked to witness to Jesus with hope, because we believe that, even in the middle of many messes and much fear, God is at work building the new heavens and the new earth. And we are asked to walk in love, because that is how we bear witness to our belief that love and not anger will renew the face of the earth. The first paragraph of the first document published by the Second Vatican Council in November 1964, said the following – By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of the intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity. (Lumen Gentium 1) Here each week, around the altar, we celebrate that intimate union with God. When we leave, we are asked to build up humanity in love by our words and example. God lives among us and he is making all things new. Have you eyes to see where he is doing it in your life?

+ Donal McKeown

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